- Babies’ erratic sleeping and eating patterns. Gone (at least temporarily) are your eight-hours of sleep. Newborns have yet to learn to take in their food during the day in order to sleep at night. Their tummies are smaller, calling for frequent feedings. They also don’t know how to put themselves to sleep, relying on us to help ease them into rest.
- Healing from childbirth. Let’s not forget that moms are still healing from the physical ailments of having just given birth. There’s all sorts of discomfort going on in the first few weeks post-partum. That, coupled with the lack of sleep, a messy house and the responsibility of caring for a baby doesn’t make this period any easier.
- Crying as a means of communication. One of the challenges with babies and even toddlers is deciphering what it is they’re trying to tell us. As kids grow, they’re more adept at communicating, whether through baby signing, different kinds of cries, facial expressions and body languages, until eventually they begin using words. Newborns don’t have that skill just yet and rely only on crying to communicate.
- The shock of new parenthood. Whether first-time parent or not, bringing home a newborn disrupts the routine a couple or a family may have had, and so suddenly. Yes, you peed five times a night when you were pregnant, but getting up to pee is vastly different from getting up to tend to a baby.
- Caring for an older child and a newborn. Never mind that you just brought home a completely dependent baby; you now have the older child to contend with too. Juggling newborn needs with those of your older child can be one of the most difficult, patience-testing experiences ever.
So yeah… newborn months = not exactly easy. Still, we manage, and as the days tick by, we start to see glimmers of that light telling us that we’re almost out of the tunnel. And while every baby is different, several milestones can mark the times when caring for a newborn becomes easier:
Four weeks: Learning the difference between day and night.
In the womb, babies slept disjointed hours, never knowing night from day. Around the first month after birth, they’ll begin to form the patterns of day and night and will eventually sleep longer stretches during the evenings.
You can encourage this pattern by keeping the room bright during the day so your baby sleep lighter for their naps, and dark and subdued in the evenings so they know night time is reserved for deep sleep.
Six weeks: The first smile.
Typically seen around six to eight weeks, the first real smile emerges. You probably saw signs of “smiling” from the first few days, but those cute smirks are reflexes, similar to sucking or flailing their arms. Several weeks later, you’ll likely witness a genuine, social smile, often in reaction to your own smiling face.
Smiling doesn’t exactly make caring or a newborn any easier, but this simple facial gesture is one of the first signs of reciprocity a baby exhibits. After weeks and weeks of giving without so much as a thank you note, a baby’s smile finally reveals the joy our babies feel. And they’re just so darn cute that they can often erase any frustration or sleep deprivation an insanely tired mom feels.
3 to 4 months: Holding their heads up.
The day your baby can hold her head up means you now have one free hand. Prior to that, carrying babies meant the use of both arms, with one hand cradling and supporting the head and neck. With at least one free arm, toting baby around becomes much easier.
Every baby develops differently, but my eldest son was fully able to hold his head up around four months, and the twins—born prematurely—even later than that.
4 to 6 months: Sleeping through the night.
Ahh, the ever-famous, STTN-for-short, sleeping through the night. The definition of “through the night” makes this milestone vague, as some people consider five hours long enough while others deem a full eight (or more) as the real deal. Whichever the case, even five hours of sleep in the evening is a godsend, so the longer your baby is able to stay asleep in the evening, the easier the newborn stage becomes.
All my kids slept five-plus hours on their own around two months, but didn’t actually sleep the full 11 hours until we sleep-trained a few months later.
4 to 6 months: The ability to put themselves to sleep.
Perhaps more important than sleeping long stretches at a time is the baby’s ability to put himself to sleep. Because while five hours of sleep was great, I dreaded having to rock, swing, bounce or shush my babies each time they had to nap or was woken up mid-sleep.
All kids are different, but some of the most common ways babies learn to put themselves to sleep is through sucking on their thumbs, rocking their heads side to side, or babbling. Mine were able to snooze on their own early on, but once they woke up, they weren’t able to put themselves back to sleep. Again, not until we sleep trained did they consistently resume and stay asleep for the full 11 to 12 hours at night (and during nap times).
Of all these milestones, sleeping through the night and being able to put themselves to sleep were by far the biggest markers of when caring for a newborn became easier for me. Once the babies were able to do both of those, life became normal (and I regained my sanity) once again.
6 to 8 months+: Life becomes normal once again
Ultimately, there is no exact age where newborns magically become easier to care for. Babies reach milestones at different points in their growth, and as always, all babies are different.
However, you’ll probably notice that this baby thing is a little easier once you “get your groove back.” You start cooking again. You can read more than one chapter in a book. You take the baby out on an errand… all on your own. And you actually slept for five straight hours.
The even better news is that it absolutely does get easier. Newborns aren’t newborns forever; they’ll eventually become infants, then toddlers and before you know it, bona fide kids. It’s just a matter of plugging through those first few months and relishing those sweet baby moments before the kiddo grows up right before your eyes.
When did you realize that the newborn stage was getting easier? If you’re caring for a newborn right now, what is your biggest challenge? Let me know in the comments below!